The Divine dream is so much greater than the Church.
Believers of all nations and generations have always known it to be so. We have this God-honouring, life- stretching desire to see every area of our cities and our cultures infected with His goodness and glory. We have the insatiable, even inescapable desire to see our families and our community experience the influence of generous hope. It may seem crazy but changing the world is our family business.
"The Church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the Church. The Church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence."
So in the spirit of believing the best and trusting that it is possible for a broken Church to display the wisdom of God in the midst of a fractured culture - and knowing that God is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine - some time ago I endeavoured to describe some shifts we can expect to see in the Church in the coming years.
The Church of the future will move from missional Church to loving the city:
Bringing life to the city is the task of every believing community. Until the city experiences life the Church has not fulfilled her mandate. In the future you can expect to see churches move from focussing on individual transformation to a gospel that is big enough for the whole city. The Church of the future will make visible the beauty and glory of God throughout the entire city. She will do so by moving beyond the building and giving her life compassionately, generously, creatively and resiliently to lead the city into life. In the future expect to see churches fight for life at the heart of the city.
The Church of the future will move from doing evangelism to leading the city into life.
Jesus didn’t evangelise the masses, he brought life to cities. Many times we have confused bringing life to the city with 'taking our cities for God.' Churches don’t take their city for God, they lead the city into life through generous hope. They learn how to wash the feet of their city; bending low for fresh grace and finding it in the face of the lost, lowest and least. The focus of churches in the future will not be to conquer cities but rather to create environments that love the city back to life and health.
Expect churches in the future not to focus on winning people for Jesus or leading people to Jesus, instead they will love people with Jesus and allow his glorious generous life to spill into them. 'In him is life' and that life lights up our cities causing them to come alive in every way. Expect the Church of the future to learn how to wash the feet of its city!
The Church of the future will move from working ON the city to working WITH the city.
Expect churches of the future to build bridges rather than walls, partnering together with other agencies and churches to supply the destiny of the community. Expect them to be increasingly connected with the life of the city and increasingly committed to bringing life to the city. And doing it together! Expect the Church of the future to throw parties for single parents, tackle domestic violence, serve schools, provide volunteers for other agencies. Expect them to work with local councillors and politicians, teachers and doctors, people of all faiths and none, in order to create a better city.
The Church of the future will move from ministry centres to compassionate hubs.
Expect the Church of the future to be known more for compassion towards the stranger than programs for the believer. They will have a reputation not only of bringing good news to the city but being good news for the city. It will be deeply messy! Kingdom compassion leads us beyond ourselves and messes with our heads, our hands, our hearts, our services and our churches. The future terrain of compassionate churches includes unfamiliar paths, uncertain outcomes, formidable challenges and uncomfortable members.
It is easier to have ministry centres but expect the Church of the future to operate more as compassion hubs: Places where, (among other things), the poor are fed and clothed, people receive medical attention, the indebted are released. Expect compassionate churches to be frequently out of their depth and occasionally somewhat out of control. They will intentionally and increasingly structure for honour rather than control. They will be known for providing dignity rather than operating efficiently.
The Church of the future will move from ministry activity to spiritual authority thus rewriting the story of the city.
Every city has a story; things and themes for which it is known. Every community has a story of pain and brokenness, addiction and relational dysfunction. Every community has its history of alcoholism and chemical dependency, of success without meaning, of being alive without dreaming. Every community has, (in the words of Peter), an 'empty way of life handed down by its forefathers' - traditions and worldviews that are contrary to original design and that prevent us experiencing life in its fullness. Every community wrestles with abuse and abandonment, fear without honour. Every community is held down by some things, and held back by some things.
The Church changes the possibilities for the city because the Church is the ONLY community with ALL authority. There are other profoundly generous communities in our cities who are doing incredible things. There are amazing agencies demonstrating wonderful compassion in our cities, however the church is the only community which has received ALL authority. Jesus didn't commission His Church to increased activity but with increased authority. The kingdom advances through authority not activity.
In the future, expect the authority of believers in the city to change the possibilities for the city. Expect a fresh capacity to re-write the story of the city. Expect a shift from ministry activity to kingdom authority. Whilst ministry activity can keep the church alive, only spiritual/kingdom authority brings life to the entire city. Expect churches in the future to be marked by greater understanding and use of spiritual authority. Expect them to exercise authority humbly as they tackle impossibility and supply destiny through breaking oppression. Expect things to change as the Church releases what She holds in her hands.
The Church of the future will move from renewal, to releasing power on the streets:
Expect the inbreaking of the kingdom where people’s hearts are breaking. Expect leaders who frequently encourage folks, "whatever else you do find a way to take it to the streets – to connect the grace that is on you with the people who are around you. Do whatever it takes to get out there among the people and God will keep giving you more. Giving away what God has given you to needy people multiplies what you have been given." The power was given to the Church for the cities. It wasn’t given so we could have better meetings, or greater experiences, it was given to change the community – the whole community! Expect churches of the future to embrace Divine initiatives and Divine invitations to testfiy with great power among the people.
With that in mind, expect the Church in the future to break down the confines that separate much power from broken people. Expect her to broaden her awareness of who the kingdom is for, and in so doing, become awakened to all those moments when the kingdom might come. She will carry an awareness that kingdom ministry belongs at the heart of the city, and seek to create environments where life can be returned to people. She will intentionally create environments where Divine fullness and human brokeness collide; where the desperation of man and the intervention of God meet. Expect to see churches move on from renewal and begin releasing greater power on the streets.
The Church of the future will move on from seeking cultural relevance towards releasing culture.
The Church of the future will neither practice cultural avoidance, or hunger for cultural relevance. She will no longer be intimidated or impressed by culture. Instead of harbouring hostility towards the culture she will be anchored to the conviction that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father. As a result, the Church of the future will recognise and reclaim the good in culture, learning to honour every expression of life. Cultural avoidance will be seen for what it is - the design of the enemy to separate us from our inheritance. Similarly, cultural relevance will be considered far too low a goal. Churches in the future will know that we can’t bring life to the city by avoiding the city, or by becoming the city.
In the future, expect the Church to move from trying to be trendy to being authentically innovative. Expect Her to live with resonance with the culture of heaven. Resonance with heaven is the eternal task/joy of the Church. When this happens, we stop looking at the music charts as the source of our inspiration. We cease reducing creativity to drama or flag waving - depending on our traditions. We instead practice bold creativity because we are unleashing something into the earth that has never existed before - creative resonance; doing what our father is doing, releasing what he is releasing. God has not given us his Spirit so that we could be culturally relevant, but so that we could be culture carriers: culture carriers who release captives.
The saddest aspect of settling for cultural relevance is that our cities are not looking for an echo - they are listening for a sound. Our cities need us to be the Church with a distinct sound and voice. As we respond to the Divine sound we release its frequency in the community. This will change the way we engage with the Arts for example. We will no longer see our expression or contribution to the arts as limited to singing in our services, or painting prophetically at the front, but rather we will start to understand our role as releasing writers, sculpters, poets, filmmakers into creative engagement that piques curiosity within the wider culture. There will be a recognition that art fuels culture and the city needs artists.
In the future the Church will be at the heart of creativity in the city bringing creative solutions to perennial problems. She will pulsate with innovative and generative ideas bringing fresh life to the city as she re-sounds with wisdom. In the future the Church will move from its obsession with Church renewal towards cultural renewal in the city at large and surprisingly - in the process - discover church renewal!
Because the Divine dream is so much greater than the Church.